Taking Stock

I’ve never really regarded January 1st as the New Year. For me, the year always begins in September. Maybe that’s because I’ve spent most of my life in schools, where the new year does actually begin in September when everyone comes back to school. Part of it, I’m sure, has to do with being Jewish. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come at this time. These holidays are heavy-duty times for taking stock. One of the main hymns focuses on “who will live and who will die” during the coming year. I always look around the room then, wondering who isn’t going to be here next year. Maybe it’s me. Brrrr!

So this seems as good a time as any to take stock about where I am as a writer. Last year I was filled with bright hopes for a new digital age. How’d they turn out?

Not so good. I’m very pleased with my website and blog. They’ve both given me a powerful opportunity to connect with those who enjoy my books. I’ve also had the chance to focus my thoughts about writing. I enjoyed blogging about The Snake as I was writing it. Many of those who read those blog posts wrote back to tell me how much they enjoyed following a writer’s thoughts as he worked on a manuscript.

On the other hand, as a source of generating income outside of actual book sales, it fell flat. Not too many of the audio downloads were ordered. It couldn’t have been the price. They were only a buck. My friend Philip Lee, a marketing specialist in children’s books, thinks that audio may not be the way to go. Few children have access to a credit card or PayPal account. Teachers have been hard-hit by the economy. So were libraries. I don’t regret trying it. It was an experiment. However, I may not continue it for the coming year.

Another idea that proved disappointing was virtual author visits. The idea here was to visit the classroom online instead of physically going to the school. Over the course of the year I had three inquiries. Only one resulted in a visit via Skype. I felt it was highly successful. The children and I both got a lot out of it. The teacher felt it was a unique experience to have the children actually talking to an author who was miles away. The problem is that these visits are not easy to set up. Arrangements have to be made to lower the district’s firewall for a certain length of time so that the author and the children can communicate. This visit to Skyline School succeeded because the principal was technically savvy and made sure that what needed to be done got done. Summing up, the key factor appears to be whether or not the teachers at the other end are knowledgeable and willing to go through the administrative procedures to make a virtual visit happen. Given all the demands on teacher time and energy, I can understand why many would not wish to bother.

What about writing? Pretty good. A fairly productive year in terms of getting projects done. Writing The Snake was an exciting experience. I started out with not much more of an idea than that I would write about a boy who wanted a pet snake. The characters and plot appeared to grow beneath my fingers the more I worked on it. I discovered things in the end that I never would have thought of when I started. In that sense I’m indebted to my friend Ellen Howard, who says that the best way to discover what to write about is just to start writing.

Publishing was not so good at all. Major catastrophes here. One important manuscript, Medieval Makeovers, which was great fun to write and for which I had high hopes, went down the tubes. My agent Chris sent it out many, many times. No negative comments and some nice ones. However, no editor loved it enough to put herself on line for it at an acquisition committee meeting. So it sits. That hurt. It also hurt that a manuscript about Ben Franklin, which would have been the fourth of my books in Random House’s Steppingstone Series, was turned down flat. That hurt, too. I don’t think I’ll be doing any more of these. I haven’t gotten any feedback or encouragement.

It also hurt to see my Book of Greek Myths not going anywhere. With three printings, excellent reviews, and publication in Greece in Greek, I felt sure it would lead to something. Nada.

So turn the page. On to the next, whatever that is. My mind is a complete blank right now. I can’t think of anything to write about. It might be writer’s block. It might be depression. So I sit, finding projects to keep me busy. Like writing long blogs.

A lot is riding on The Snake. If that goes nowhere, I really don’t know what I’ll do. I will be completely tapped out.

That summarizes the past year. So here I sit, looking forward to another year with a mixture of hope and dread. Think you’d like to be a writer? Well, if you do, you have to take the bitter with the sweet. Everything comes in cycles. Just remember this: we never quit. So maybe I’m blue today. Tomorrow I’ll dance.

Send me an email if you have any thoughts or comments. I’d love to hear from you.

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